A fatal car crash victim's failure to wear a seat belt is irrelevant in a vehicular homicide case, which requires proof only that the accident would have been avoided had defendant not driven as he did, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The justices, in State v. Buckley, A-55-11, reversed an Appellate Division panel that allowed into evidence the passenger's lack of a seat belt as well as the improper placement of a utility pole hit by the vehicle.
On Aug. 12, 2008, Keith Buckley and fellow North Brunswick police lieutenant Christopher Zerby were riding in a Dodge Viper sports car Buckley borrowed from his brother.
Buckley lost control and struck a utility pole while driving 94 miles an hour in a 45 mph zone on Route 130. Buckley, who was wearing a seat belt, suffered minor injuries; Zerby, who was unbelted, died later at a hospital.
Buckley was charged with second-degree vehicular homicide, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.
A conviction under that law requires a showing that the defendant's "conduct is the cause of a result when it is an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred," N.J.S.A. 2C:2-3(a)(1).
If that determination is made, the causation inquiry moves to the two-pronged standard in N.J.S.A. 2C:2-3(c).
Under the first prong, the statute predicates a finding of causation on proof that the "actual result" was "within the risk of which the actor is aware."
Or, causation may be proved under the second prong — whether "the actual result" involves the "same kind of injury or harm as the probable result" and whether it is "too remote, accidental in its occurrence, or dependent on another's volitional act to have a just bearing on the actor's liability or on the gravity of his offense."
Buckley sought to introduce fact and expert evidence that Zerby would have lived had he buckled up and that the utility pole was in front of a guardrail, in violation of a state roadway design manual.
The state relied solely on the first prong in moving to exclude that evidence.
Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Frederick DeVesa ruled both matters admissible in proving causation. The Appellate Division agreed.
During oral argument before the justices, Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Joie Piderit said Zerby's lack of a seat belt was irrelevant because it is a driver's duty to proceed in a nonreckless manner regardless of whether the passenger is belted.
Piderit also argued that the pole- placement issue was a "red herring" because the car should have stayed on the road.
Buckley's attorney, Alan Zegas, asserted before the Supreme Court that the causation question should be put to a jury and that the state's desire for a bright-line rule on admissibility of evidence such as the seat belt and utility pole questions was "impractical."
The Supreme Court reversed, in a decision written by Justice Anne Patterson,
It held that evidence about the seat belt and pole placement is irrelevant to the "but for" causation inquiry and the test under the first prong of N.J.S.A. 2C:2-3(c) — whether the defendant was aware the manner in which he drove posed the risk of a fatal accident.
To be admissible on the issue of causation, the evidence must be relevant to the jury's inquiry under the first prong of N.J.S.A. 2C:2-3(c), Patterson wrote.
The jury must decide whether the defendant's conduct is "an antecedent but for which the result in question would not have occurred," Patterson wrote.
"If the jury determines that defendant was aware that his conduct gave rise to such a risk, it need not assess the exact degree of that risk, or the variables that could affect its magnitude," she said.
"Fact and expert evidence that Zerby's failure to wear a seat belt exacerbated his chance of dying in the collision is thus irrelevant to the jury's inquiry," she added.
Patterson said to ensure jurors have a complete picture, they may be told Zerby's seat belt was unfastened, but such evidence must be accompanied by an appropriate limiting instruction.
Zegas, who heads a firm in Chatham, says the ruling contradicts case law, although previous rulings have focused on the second prong of N.J.S.A. 2C:2-3(c), while this case focused on the first.
"In my view, the trial judge and Appellate Division properly analyzed the law," Zegas says.
Acting Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said in a statement, "Today's decision clarifies New Jersey causation law and is an important guide for many pending and future cases."
Link to article
For additional information regarding your traffic or criminal questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
The Warren County prosecutor on Wednesday won reversal of a trial judge's suppression of drug evidence on the ground that police arrested the suspect before positively identifying him.
The Appellate Division found the appearance of a vehicle matching a tipster's detailed description at an arranged place and time was enough to establish probable cause for arresting the driver.
According to the opinion in State v. Dority, A-4017-11, and an attorney in the case, Phillipsburg police executed a search warrant in March 2010 on the home of William Joe, who was suspected of street-level drug distribution.
Arrested and brought to headquarters, Joe quickly offered to cooperate by arranging a drug purchase with a dealer who had been selling him cocaine every few days for at least two months.
He described the dealer — later identified as Don Dority — as a black male, stocky and six feet tall, with curly black hair and green eyes, and his vehicle as a red Ford Taurus with tinted windows and Pennsylvania license plates.
Joe dialed Dority and asked, in code, to purchase 30 grams of crack cocaine. Dority allegedly hung up to check his supply, and then called back and offered to deliver 7 grams of powder cocaine to Joe's house.
Detective James McDonald, with a prosecutor's authorization, listened in on the calls, though the conversations were not intercepted or recorded.
McDonald alerted officers who had stayed behind at Joe's home to continue searching. They took positions outside the house, waited and eventually saw a car matching Joe's description pull up to the house for a few moments and leave.
Joe — at the direction of McDonald, who was receiving updates from the officers waiting at Joe's house — called Dority back and asked him to return.
When the car reappeared in front of Joe's home, at least five officers surrounded it. They were unable to see inside because of the window tints but directed Dority to show his hands and exit the vehicle, which he did. They allegedly found cocaine in his possession. Dority was charged with two third-degree drug counts, pleaded not guilty and moved to suppress the evidence.
In a March 2012 opinion, Superior Court Judge Ann Bartlett granted the motion, finding probable cause lacking and the arrest unlawful.
"The problem with the facts of this case is that the police jumped the gun" because they couldn't see Dority's face and arrested him without matching his physical description, Bartlett wrote.
Officers "did not give [Dority] a chance to perfect the probable cause by walking up to the informant's door in performance of the planned transaction," so his actions "never evolved into probable criminal activity," she added.
Appellate Division Judges Marie Lihotz and John Kennedy reversed on Wednesday, finding probable cause to arrest even before Dority left his car.
"While it would have been better to let the driver exit the vehicle so that the police could assure themselves that the driver matched the physical description, … the police were not required to wait for that potentially dangerous maneuver to occur before it could be said that they had probable cause to arrest the driver," the panel said in a per curiam opinion.
The judges noted that probable cause can be based on informants' tips if their veracity, and the reliability of the tip, are independently corroborated.
Joe's veracity was borne out by his detailed description of the Taurus and the car's appearance at the location and time he'd specified, they said. "Joe told the officers what to expect, and events played out precisely as Joe stated they would."
Also, the phone conversations that McDonald listened to "made it very evident" that whoever was driving the Taurus possessed cocaine and sought to deliver it to Joe's home.
Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Tara Kirkendall says "it's easier to control the situation from a safety perspective" when officers arrest someone sitting in a vehicle rather than on foot.
The decision "spoke to the need to take into account officers' safety when we're reviewing investigative decisions," she adds. "This does help us figure out what probable cause is under this set of circumstances."
Dority is represented by Assistant Deputy Public Defender John McGuigan Jr. He did not return a call Wednesday. Office spokesman Dale Jones declines comment. Dority, 48, is out of jail on a $500 bond.
Link to article
For additional information regarding your criminal questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
A criminal defense lawyer need not give grand jury testimony about text messages exchanged with a client who had bolted from court to avoid arrest.
Superior Court Judge Frederick Theemling Jr. quashed the subpoena proffered by prosecutors in State v. Thomas, Grand Jury No. F10, finding the testimony unnecessary because there was sufficient other evidence to show the defendant had skipped bail.
The Hudson County judge also said the defense lawyer's revelation of the content of the texts in open court was a mere courtesy and didn't make them subject to a grand jury subpoena.
Jacob Hudnut, a Jersey City solo and a pool attorney for the Public Defender's Office, represented Lucius Thomas, who was arrested in August 2011 after police allegedly found cocaine and heroin in an apartment where he had been staying.
Theemling presided at a May 2012 jury trial. Thomas was acquitted on nine of 10 counts and found guilty only of resisting arrest. He was released from jail, having been there 10 months.
Thomas appeared at a sentencing hearing on July 6, 2012, but prosecutors moved to postpone and to have Thomas taken into custody on other drug charges lodged since his release.
Theemling granted the motion, but there weren't enough sheriff's officers to take Thomas into custody right away. During the delay, Thomas excused himself to the rest room. Hudnut later informed the court that Thomas had left the building and had texted him that he would not be returning. Hudnut said he texted back, urging Thomas to return, but to no avail.
Days later, Assistant Prosecutor Priya Ramrup asked Hudnut to forward her the text messages, but he refused.
Thomas eventually was arrested in September and remains in custody on the pending drug charges.
On April 15, Hudnut was served with a grand jury subpoena instructing him to appear on May 7 "to testify to all which you may know concerning the above matter," which Hudnut says he understood to refer to the text messages.
Hudnut informed Hudson County Deputy Public Defender Joseph Russo about the subpoena, who in turn contacted the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey.
John O'Reilly of Day Pitney, an ACDL-NJ trustee, moved to quash the subpoena, arguing the messages were protected by attorney-client privilege and the information sought was available to the state through less intrusive means.
"The basis for the failure to appear was stated on the record and was relied upon by the court in the issuance of a bench warrant," O'Reilly wrote. "Consequently, a transcript of the proceeding is sufficient to establish that Defendant did not appear and what Mr. Hudnut reported to the court regarding Defendant's nonappearance."
At a May 2 hearing, Ramrup acknowledged that she sought Hudnut's testimony about the texts and argued that he had waived any privilege by revealing the nature of the messages in court.
But O'Reilly said Hudnut's disclosure was compelled by Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6(b)(2) and (d)(2), which require a lawyer to disclose information to prevent a client from perpetrating a fraud on the court and to defend himself or herself from a complaint connected to a client's conduct.
Theemling, ruling from the bench, granted O'Reilly's motion without reaching the privilege issue. He found Hudnut revealed the text messages as a courtesy so that the court did not waste time awaiting Thomas' return.
O'Reilly, the First Assistant Morris County Prosecutor from 1982 to 1992 and Warren County Prosecutor for six years after that, says the ruling strikes a blow for public defenders' integrity and independence. He says many clients already distrust public defenders because they're paid by the government, and a contrary ruling by Theemling "would just magnify that by a hundredfold."
Hudnut says of the ruling: "No matter what happened last week, I would've done the right thing. And I don't see participating in my client's prosecution as the right thing."
Link to article
For additional information regarding your individual legal questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
Judge jails lawyer and client over tardy arrival for jury selection
When a Philadelphia lawyer and his client arrived 50 minutes late for jury selection in a drug case on Monday, a Pennsylvania judge jailed them both.
Holding lawyer B. David Marcial in contempt and upping the bond for his client, Jesus O. Ortiz, from $120,000 to $3 million, Judge Stephen B. Lieberman of Berks County ordered both held in the courthouse cellblock, reports the Reading Eagle.
"We were all here at 9 a.m. for a jury trial and the defense table was empty," said the judge, who had dismissed the prospects not long before the two arrived. "We wasted a jury panel."
Four hours later, Lieberman had both brought before him for a hearing. Marcial, who must also pay a $1,000 fine within 60 days or serve 10 days in prison, explained that personal problems kept him up late and then a receptionist at a local hotel failed to give him a wake-up call, the newspaper recounts. He left the courthouse after the hearing but Ortiz was transported to the county jail.
New Jersey Law Journal May 7, 2013
If you require legal assistance, contact us today at 800-709-1131 for your free consult.
A state appeals court on Monday vacated a $7.4 million judgment for a pedestrian hit by a driver who had been drinking at a pool party at an apartment complex.
The judges, in Lau v. Seabring Associates, A-3864-10, found the trial court had given erroneous charges to the jury on social host liability and respondeat superior.
Henry Lau, now 69, was walking his dog in the early morning on Dec. 27, 2006, when hit by drunken driver David Figueroa, who had been drinking during an after-hours pool party at the Excelsior, a Hackensack apartment complex owned by Seabring.
Figueroa's blood-alcohol concentration was .192 percent, far in excess of the legal limit of .08. He pleaded guilty to third-degree assault by auto and fourth-degree leaving the scene of an accident, and was sentenced to five years' probation and 180 hours of community service.
Lau, a cardiologist at Hackensack University Medical Center, broke both legs, his pelvis, back and several ribs. He was unable to return to work.
A Bergen County jury awarded Lau $5 million and his wife $350,000 per quod. It also awarded Lau $1.73 million, under a stipulation by the parties, for lost future wages, and the verdict was molded to include $365,000 for past and future medical expenses.
The jury apportioned 55 percent of liability to Seabring, 25 percent to Figueroa and 20 percent to Gabriel Ortiz, an Excelsior front-desk concierge who let the party-goers enter the building, left the door to the pool unlocked and permitted consumption of alcohol despite a no-drinking policy at the pool.
Figueroa settled for $15,000 before trial and Ortiz defaulted.
A judgment for the entire $7.4 million in damages, minus the $15,000 settlement paid by Figueroa, plus $1.2 million in pre-judgment interest, was entered against Seabring under the joint and several liability statute.
Seabring's 55 percent share, and its respondeat superior liability for Ortiz's 20 percent share, placed it over the 60 percent threshold for full liability under the statute, according to Lau's attorney.
On appeal, Seabring argued that Superior Court Judge Alexander Carver III wrongly submitted the questions of respondeat superior liability and social host liability to the jury and gave erroneous instructions on the issues.
In their per curiam decision, Appellate Division Judges Susan Reisner, Harris and Margaret Hayden said the factual picture was "insufficient to present the jury with a viable dispute regarding vicarious liability based on respondeat superior."
The decision by Ortiz, a member of the security staff, to admit trespassers was clearly outside the scope of his employment as it "directly undermined the security of the building that Ortiz was hired to provide," the panel said.
The judges further held the "record does not warrant the inclusion of a stand-alone charge on a social host theory of liability because Seabring was not a social host. It was an employer."
Figueroa was only 20 at the time of the party and liability for providing alcohol for people under 21 is governed by traditional negligence principles under common law, not social host liability, the panel said.
In addition, the pool party was not sponsored or condoned by Seabring, and there was no evidence it provided the alcohol, the panel said.
Seabring asked the appeals court to find that an accumulation of errors required a new trial on liability and allocation of fault.
Again the panel sided with the company, finding that Carver "improperly fused" respondeat superior and social host liability, and jurors were never asked to consider the differences between vicarious and primary liability.
The panel said it had "no confidence" that the jury properly evaluated the actors' liability and assigned appropriate percentages of fault.
"When viewed under the totality of the circumstances, the material surplusage of issues presented, the trial court's overlapping instructions, and the unnecessarily narrow-focused verdict summary form combined to create a misleading deliberative environment, fully capable of engendering an unjust result," it said.
The appeals court ordered a new trial on liability and apportionment of blame. But that is now moot as the plaintiff will receive $5 million under a high-low agreement with defendant Seabring Associates while the appeal was pending, according to his lawyer, Rosemarie Arnold, who heads a firm in Fort Lee.
Arnold says she disagrees with the ruling but her client would have prevailed if the case had been retried solely on a negligent supervision theory of liability against Seabring. "The evidence was in abundance that they negligently supervised" Ortiz, she says.
As for the high-low settlement, "no one likes to lose, but when the booby prize is north of $5 million, it's not that bad," she says.
Link to article
For additional information regarding your drunk driving, dui, dwi or other liability questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
SCOTCH PLAINS — Concerns for safety along some narrow roadways have led Scotch Plains officials to lower a number of speed limits in town, officials said.
“The town has grown, and the makeup has changed considerably,” Mayor Kevin Glover said today. “Obviously at one point we were a very rural town, and on these streets there has been a lot of development.”
Stretches of Martine Avenue, Terrill Road and Raritan Road all have reduced speeds effective today, police said in a press release. Updated signs noting the new limits have been posted.
In preparation for today’s changes, police officers staked out certain areas and tracked drivers’ speeds, Glover said. They found people were driving upward of 55 mph on narrow, tree-lined streets where the posted limit was 45 mph, a remnant of the town’s more rural past.
Police brought their analysis to the township council, who approved the recommended changes unanimously, Glover said. Union County then signed off on the proposal.
“There was a time when these roads were almost like back roads,” Glover said, though consistent growth in population and bicycle traffic over the last few decades have made them much riskier for high-speed driving.
“We’re trying to be proactive and keep the community safer,” Glover said. “Reality is, there’s a lot more traffic on there, a lot more development that has taken place.”
Glover said he has not heard any resistance to the modified limits, though he understands that might change as drivers begin to navigate the slower roads.
Still, he doesn’t think the 5- to 10-mph differences should raise too much ire.
Link to article
For additional information regarding your speeding or other traffic violation questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
A federal jury in Trenton has found in favor of Merck & Co. Inc. in the first suit to go to trial over claims that its osteoporosis drug Fosamax causes fractured femurs.
After an hour and 20 minutes of deliberation on Monday, jurors voted 8 to 0 that the plaintiff failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that her fracture was of the so-called atypical type said to be caused by the drug.
The verdict in Glynn v. Merck, Sharp & Dohme Corp., 11-cv-5304, is important because 3,330 of 4,560 pending Fosamax suits are over fractured femurs or other bone-related injuries. The rest pertain to jaw-related problems.
The drug is designed to slow bone loss and make bones more dense. But some plaintiffs say it interferes with the normal bone-healing process in such a way that microfractures are not repaired.
Atypical femur fractures are defined as near the hip or in the middle section of the long bone of the femur, with a straight, rather than uneven, fracture, and usually occurring while the subject is simply standing or walking.
Bernadette Glynn, now 58, of Cohoes, N.Y., claimed she began using the drug in 2001 and continued until 2009, when she bent over while gardening and felt a pinch in her right leg.
She later learned she fractured her femur and underwent surgery to repair it with a rod and screws.
She claimed the company failed to adequately disclose risks associated with long-term use of Fosamax.
Her suit included counts for failure to warn and defective design, both under the New Jersey Product Liability Act; negligence; negligent misrepresentation; breach of express warranty and breach of implied warrant of fitness and merchantability; and violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. She also included a claim for loss of consortium by her husband, Richard.
The company contended that Fosamax didn't cause Glynn's injury, that it made the proper disclosures to the public and physicians, and that it acted responsibly in researching, developing and monitoring Fosamax.
Jurors answered "no" to the first question on the verdict sheet, which was, "did Bernadette Glynn prove by the preponderance of the evidence that she experienced an atypical femur fracture in April 2009?"
Their answer of "no" meant they did not proceed to questions on adequacy of Merck's warning and the proper amount of compensation.
The verdict was reached after 15 days of trial before U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano.
Merck hailed the victory, which brings its record to six wins and two losses among Fosamax cases — over jaw-bone problems — tried to completion.
Bruce Kuhlik, executive vice president and general counsel of Merck, said in a statement: "The company provided appropriate and timely information about Fosamax to consumers and the medical, scientific and regulatory communities."
He added, "We remain confident in the efficacy and safety profile of Fosamax."
Merck was represented by Chilton Varner and Andrew Bayman of King & Spalding in Atlanta and Karen Confoy of Fox Rothschild in Princeton.
The lead plaintiff lawyer in the case, Paul Pennock of Weitz & Luxenberg in New York, says, "as far as the atypical fracture finding, there are appellate issues concerning the verdict sheet presentation of that question, among other issues." He declines to elaborate.
To date, two Fosamax cases have been tried before Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee in Atlantic County Superior Court. Defense verdicts were returned in both cases, in which plaintiffs linked necrosis of the jawbone to use of Fosamax.
Higbee also began a trial in another Fosamax case involving a broken femur in March. But Higbee declared a mistrial in that case March 18 after the plaintiff suffered a heart attack.
Five other Fosamax trials have been conducted to date, all in the Southern District of New York. Plaintiffs have prevailed in two.
In one, Scheinberg v. Merck, the jury awarded $285,000. In the other, Boles v. Merck, the jury awarded $8 million, but the judge reduced the award to $1.5 million. When the plaintiff sought a new damages trial, Merck settled for an undisclosed amount.
Merck introduced Fosamax in 1995, and it remains on the market. In 2005, at the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration, the company amended its labeling to disclose risks that it can cause necrosis of the jawbone.
The labeling was changed again in 2011 after the FDA issued a safety announcement and studies linking the drug with femur fractures, exposed and rotting jawbones, fractures, gum lesions, severe jaw pain, loose teeth and secondary infections.
Suits filed in New Jersey, other than those seeking medical monitoring, were consolidated before Higbee in October 2008.
Link to article
For additional information regarding your liability or products liability questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
Court Weighs Whistleblower Suit For Violations of Company Policy
The state Supreme Court is considering how far New Jersey's whistleblower law can reach when an employee alleges retaliation for complaining about conduct that might have violated company policy but was not necessarily illegal.
The court on Wednesday heard arguments in Battaglia v. UPS Inc., A-86/87-11, an appeal from a judgment awarding damages to a United Parcel Service worker demoted and assigned to the night shift after reporting other employees' improper behavior to his supervisor.
Michael Battaglia complained about managers' actions that he thought violated UPS policy, such as making derogatory comments about women, misusing corporate credit cards and filing false expense reports in order to cover the costs of buying alcoholic drinks at lunches that stretched for hours.
Following a month-long trial before Superior Court Judge Phillip Paley, the jury found that UPS violated both the Conscientious Employee Protection Act and the Law Against Discrimination. It awarded Battaglia $500,000 for economic losses and $500,000 for emotional distress, though Paley reduced the emotional damages award to $205,000. The jury found no cause for Battaglia's claim for punitive damages.
The Appellate Division affirmed the CEPA violation, but vacated the emotional damages award and ordered a new trial. It also found that there was no reason to award punitive damages. Both sides filed appeals to the Supreme Court.
UPS's attorney, Michael Bissinger, told the court there was no basis for there to be a valid CEPA claim.
Battaglia, he said, was not engaging in protected activity when he complained about the alleged misuse of corporate credit cards because there was no UPS policy saying nondriver employees could not drink alcohol at lunch and putting that in their expenses.
Bissinger, of the Piscataway office of Day Pitney, said Battaglia would have to have believed there was evidence of some clear illegal activity, such as fraud, for him to be protected by CEPA.
"There is no CEPA claim when the activity does not violate internal policies," Bissinger said.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said Battaglia suggested there was the misuse of company credit cards.
Bissinger said there was no evidence that the employees were violating company policies or any criminal statutes.
Justice Anne Patterson asked whether Battaglia might not have understood company policy and believed he was reporting illegal or fraudulent activity. "Is that actionable?" she asked.
"I don't think so," Bissinger said. "We're talking about UPS internal policy, not laws. Maybe if they were drinking and then driving."
Appellate Division Judge Anthony Parrillo, temporarily assigned, asked whether Battaglia did enough of an investigation before voicing his concerns.
"He could have done more, and should have done more," Bissinger said.
Battaglia's lawyer, Maureen Binetti, told the court that Battaglia should receive CEPA protection.
"He was the quintessential UPSer," she said. "He is no longer the same person. His life was destroyed.
"Michael Battaglia tried to do the right thing," said Binetti, of Woodbridge's Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer.
If a person has a reasonable, not frivolous, belief that there is improper conduct, CEPA should apply, she said. "That's what happened here."
"He's not required to be a lawyer," Binetti said. "He was trying to protect the company from fraud by its managers."
Patterson asked whether there was anything beyond the purported credit card misuse or manipulation of the meals expense system.
Binetti pointed to the evidence that Battaglia also complained about the derogatory remarks made about female employees.
Justice Helen Hoens asked whether Battaglia had concerns that the employees' behavior was causing poor work performance.
"That's correct," Binetti said. "He believed that because of all the abuses going on."
Justices Barry Albin and Jaynee LaVecchia recused, as did Appellate Division Judges Ariel Rodriguez and Mary Catherine Cuff, also temporarily assigned.
New Jersey Law Journal April 18, 2013
Defense lawyers say they expect to file more suppression motions as a result of a recent, favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling on drunken driving.
The court, in Missouri v. McNeely, No. 11-1425, held on April 17 that as a general rule, police must obtain a search warrant or consent in order to extract blood from a driver to test for alcohol.
Previously, the fact that the passage of time would cause a drop in blood-alcohol levels was deemed a sufficient exigency to justify an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement for searches.
Under McNeely, however, the drop in levels may support an exigency finding in a particular case but does not do so categorically.
The issue must be decided case by case, based on the totality of the circumstances, including the evanescent nature of blood-alcohol levels and the resultant loss of evidence as time passes, the court said.
New Jersey courts have allowed police to require blood testing so long as it is not performed forcibly or against physical resistance.
Blood-alcohol levels are typically based on Alcotest breath samples, with police resorting to extraction of blood where the Alcotest cannot be used — for example, when the driver has been injured, has bad asthma or for some other reason cannot provide a sample.
DWI defense lawyers are grappling with questions raised by McNeely, including whether it will be applied retroactively, which the court did not address.
Jeffrey Gold of Cherry Hill, a past president of the State Bar Association's Municipal Court Practice Committee, says nothing in the case indicates it will not be retroactive.
It is not a new rule, just an interpretation of the warrant requirement, and thus, should be applied retroactively, in his view.
Gold estimates that 5 percent of his DWI cases involve blood tests, and he will move to suppress based on McNeely in all of them.
Hammonton solo Robert Pinizzotto says at any given time, he has one to five blood-draw cases.
He wonders whether the courts will allow only pipeline retroactivity, limited to pending charges, or complete retroactivity, which would allow DWI conviction challenges.
Another issue raised by McNeely is the warning police will likely have to give in seeking consent to a blood test, similar to when they seek consent to search a vehicle.
Pinizzotto also sees a potential impact on urine tests of drivers suspected of drug use, usually done without a warrant, by consent. If those drivers must also be warned, consent might be harder to come by, he thinks.
Defense lawyer Peter Lederman of Lomurro Davison Eastman & Munoz in Freehold points to additional aspects of McNeely he likes: the credence given to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards regarding sobriety, which New Jersey judges do not share, and language recognizing that the interest in preventing DWI does not trump the Fourth Amendment.
Jon-Henry Barr, head of the municipal prosecutors' association, calls the reaction to the ruling "much ado about nothing."
"I am confident that the New Jersey Attorney General's Office will issue some type of guidelines now to assure that consent is obtained in a proper way before blood is drawn," says Barr, who heads a firm in Clark.
"In the event a suspected drunk driver does not consent, there will be an appropriate procedure to quickly and probably telephonically obtain a warrant," he adds.
Within 24 hours of the McNeely holding, he received an email about the case from the Union County Prosecutor's Office — Barr is a prosecutor in two Union County municipalities, Clark and Kenilworth — stating that police should be advised that the need for a blood-test warrant will be evaluated on a totality-of-the-circumstances standard.
Barr, who says roughly 5 percent to 10 percent of DWIs he prosecutes involve blood tests, acknowledges that police have a problem due to McNeely and will need a consent form to draw blood with appropriate warning language and a procedure for obtaining a warrant if consent is not given.
In his experience, police are reluctant to obtain warrants because of the inconvenience. He says the process can be made easier by allowing telephonic warrants. Superior Court judges can already issue them and McNeely has increased the pressure to allow municipal courts to do so as well, he says.
The Supreme Court Municipal Court Practice Committee report released on Feb. 1 mentioned the possibility but held it for future consideration.
The committee said it did not want to contradict the report of the Supreme Court Special Committee on Telephonic and Electronic Search Warrants, which recommended against municipal judges issuing telephonic warrants.
But it also noted that the warrant committee report said if warrant requests increased to the point where Superior Court judges could not handle the volume, certain municipal judges might need to be enlisted.
More than 35,000 driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases were resolved in New Jersey from July 2011 through June 2012, the most recent fiscal year for which statistics are available.
Link to article
For additional information regarding your drunk driving, dui, or dwi questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
Sending a Flagman Into Traffic Without Safety Gear Does Not Pierce Comp Bar
Injured laborers keep pushing the envelope for a degree of employer negligence egregious enough to surmount the workers' compensation bar, and the courts keep pushing back.
In the latest instance, the Appellate Division on Tuesday dismissed a personal injury suit by a paving company employee run over after being stationed in the center of a busy county road with only a hand-held sign to halt traffic.
Although the company had fluorescent jackets, warning signs, cones and flags at its disposal, failure to provide them was "simply insufficient to support the claim that the employer knew his actions were virtually certain to result in injury," the court said in Fendt v. Abrahams, A-2333-11.
On May 29, 2008, JV Paving employee Michael Fendt was hit by a car on a 40-mile-an-hour county road as he was directing traffic while the company's principal, Jerry Valvano, pulled a backhoe in and out of a driveway.
The car's driver later admitted he took his eyes off the road to look at his car radio but said he would have slowed down had cones been present.
A responding police officer cited Valvano for not having construction warning signs and not complying with signage requirements in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Valvano ultimately pleaded guilty to the first charge; the second was dismissed.
Fendt sued and proffered expert testimony that JV Paving exposed to him to a risk that was substantially or virtually certain to result in harm.
Valvano admitted he had no written safety policies or manuals, and only gave safety instructions verbally.
After discovery, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Arthur Bergman granted JV Paving's motion for summary judgment in August 2011, holding its conduct negligent but not intentional. He denied a motion for reconsideration.
Affirming, Appellate Division Judges Victor Ashrafi and Margaret Hayden followed the state Supreme Court's ruling in Van Dunk v. Reckson Associates Realty Corp., 210 N.J. 449 (2012), that even a willful violation of federal workplace safety rules does not meet the intentional-wrong exception to the workers' comp bar, absent proof of the employer's "virtual certainty that bodily injury or death will result."
The justices distinguished limited circumstances where an employer's affirmative conduct — such as removal of a machine's a safety device, failure to address prior safety violations or deliberate deceit of workers or safety regulators — were sufficient to surmount the bar.
JV Paving did not ignore prior violations, take affirmative action to impair employee safety or try to deceive the plaintiff or anyone else, the panel said.
Its ignorance of safety precautions and rules, increasing risk of injury, "is clearly not to be condoned" but "does not amount to an intentional wrong that allows plaintiff to avoid the workers' compensation bar," the panel said.
Newark solo Lora Glick, Fendt's appellate counsel, says Valvano's failure to protect Fendt "was not just one omission — it was a systematic series of omissions. The time line verifies that this was an ongoing practice of theirs."
She says she and Fendt will consider petitioning the Supreme Court for certification.
Michael Palma of Viscomi & Lyons in Morristown, who represented JV Paving and Valvano, did not return a call.
New Jersey Law Journal 4/9/13
For additional information regarding your worker's compensation questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com